For years now, “content is king” (or “queen”) has been the mantra for businesses that reach their prospects and customers online. In fact, 77% of companies say they have a content marketing strategy and 78% of companies have a team of one-to-three content specialists.
To effectively reach potential buyers and spur them to action, you need great content, along with a coherent and consistent content strategy. Now is a great time to start (or revamp) your content marketing plan.
“For example, in the decorated-apparel industry, writing a blog for your shop can be a great way to give your customers the answers to the questions they’re continually asking,” says Marshall Atkinson, business consultant at Atkinson Consulting and Shirt Lab Tribe. “These questions can include: Will the same digitized logo sew correctly on a hat if it was created for a shirt? Why do you need vector art files? Can you print over a hoodie zipper? How do I choose what type of shirt to use for my event? If you had blog articles for these examples, these could be searchable on your website. People are always asking questions, so give them the answers, and you win.” The Board of Decorators blog by Gildan is one of our favorite decorated-apparel industry blogs.
Here, we’ll answer the most common questions we hear about quickly and easily building a consistent content marketing strategy from print shops and distributors.
Q. What’s a content strategy and why do I need one?
In a nutshell, a content strategy is the marketing plan and schedule you use to manage all of your customer-facing content. In the past, this might have only included written content such as blog posts, but now it can include social media posts, pictures, user-created pieces, videos, podcasts and much more.
“Facebook is a solid platform for niche markets. You just have to have your audiences dialed in.” Josh Wylie, Igg Screen Printing
“Our customers want to see how our shop works and the quality of the products that go out the door,” says Josh Wylie, director of operations at El Reno, OK-based Igg Screen Printing. “Of course, while a lot of our sales and branding is built through word-of-mouth, we do a lot of our brand building with social media content. Not everyone has the time or wants to put out the effort to build content, but building your brand through content is just as important as pushing the product to consumers.”
Before you start planning your content strategy, you must define your marketing goals, such as score clients in a brand-new industry or add 500 prospects to your mailing list. Then, you need to prioritize those goals so you can achieve them using your content strategy.
You need a focused and well-thought-out content strategy because it:
- Helps you to create and reach goals
- Forces you to track progress
- Identifies opportunities
- Elevates the content you create, so you reach those marketing goals.
Q. What’s the first step in creating a solid content marketing plan?
Good question. Your first goal is to define your target audience. While your first instinct might be to say, “Our shop serves everyone,” that’s simply not the case. You serve certain profitable industries and demographics, so you’ll want to create content with those people in mind.
And just as you don’t sell only one type of apparel, you might have several different personas, or types of people, that you serve. Marketers today create content for multiple audience segments—marketing to three audience segments is most common. You can look at which industries or types of buyers make up the biggest percentage of your sales, or are the most lucrative for your shop.
A good example is that you sell hip-hop T-shirts for music artists, as well as apparel for local and school sports teams. Obviously, the buyers for those markets are very different: a hip-hop artist or agent vs. a high school football coach.
Ask yourself a few questions to help you determine your ideal customer:
- What are your current customers like? What social media channels do they hang out on? Do they interact with their favorite brands on social media?
- What do your current customers like about shopping with you (and of course, your decorated-apparel products)?
- What kind of customers do your direct competitors have?
You’ll want to create content on your website and social media directed toward the group (or groups) of people you’ve identified as your target audience.
Once you’ve figured out who you’ll create content for, then it’s time to determine your goals.
There are many different types of content that you can create and use: podcasts, videos, blogs, newsletters and more. The goal for your content strategy starts with deciding what type of content would create the most conversations between your prospects and you.
In addition to understanding what types of content you can use, you also need to see how those different content blocks (blogs, videos, etc.) will fit together. For example, if your plan is to start a video series, you need to determine how it fits into your existing marketing efforts.
It’s also key to create goals for the work you put into your content. You’ve likely heard of S.M.A.R.T. goals before. Just to recap, these are goals that are:
As an example, here are four S.M.A.R.T. marketing goals for your shop’s content strategy:
- Boost our blog traffic by 10% over a three-month period.
- Grow our email list by an additional 1,000 prospects during two sales quarters.
- Increase attendance to live events (or virtual events) vs. those from last year.
- Increase our landing page conversions by 20% in the next fiscal year.
Each of these goals hit the five points of a S.M.A.R.T. goal, and can increase both your online and in-store sales. They can bring in more traffic and provide you with more emails to give you access to prospective customers that can then be converted into paying customers.
Wylie says it’s time to rethink things if you don’t have enough time to push out quality content or to hire someone to help. “Our company uses applications to make creating content as simple and efficient as possible,” Wylie says. ”Research different tools to help you build your content, and use a content scheduler to automatically post to your social media platforms on specific dates and times. These helpful tools for consistently posting content are right at your fingertips.”
Q. This all sounds great! How do I create a content plan to achieve my goals?
Now it’s time to actually create your content marketing plan to achieve your goals. Let’s start with the difference between a “content plan” and a “content strategy.” Content plans are simply a list of content ideas and may not include any information on how and when you’ll distribute the content, what it should be about, or why you’re creating it.
Content strategy, on the other hand, is much more than just a plan to create content. It’s an overarching document that outlines how you or your team should create content and distribute it for each stage in your marketing funnel.
“Want to drive more traffic to your website? Want to position your shop at the top of search engine results? Regularly posting blog articles to your site adds fresh, original content.” Marshall Atkinson, Atkinson Consulting and Shirt Lab Tribe
The best way to create a content plan is by first narrowing down the type of content you want to produce, and then determining how/where you’ll post it or send out to your audience. For example, if you want to create a series of videos showing your shop’s most in-demand apparel styles or decoration types, first identify what distribution platform will work best for it (i.e., YouTube or Facebook video).
Also ask: What platforms are my prospects using? You can easily find this information out by doing general demographic research or even surveying your existing customers to see where they hang out online.
As you create your content calendar, think about evergreen topics. Unless you’re blogging or creating a video about a specific event, your content will be fresh long after you post it. “For example, if you write an article about how to choose the right apparel for a high school spirit wear campaign at the start of the school year, that same article will be relevant at the beginning of every school year,” Atkinson says. “All you have to do is then just push it out again on your social media for people to read it. Once you write an article or shoot a video, it’s the gift that keeps on giving.”
Then, once you’ve chosen the type of content you’ll produce and what platforms you’ll use to get it out there, now you’ll get a little more granular. How many videos are you producing? What topics will you cover? How long will each video be? Who in your shop will be involved in creating and shooting them? Will you need to hire any outside help? What’s important here is providing ample time to develop your content strategy so you can make sure every piece of content aligns with your objectives.
“Our customers want to see how our shop works and the quality of the products that go out the door. We do a lot of our brand building with social media content.” Josh Wylie, Igg Screen Printing
Don’t forget: Your shop needs to have an active social media presence for your content marketing plan to work. We’re living in an always-on, always-connected environment where people will readily seek out the information they crave when it’s most convenient for them. This makes social media platforms a great avenue for driving traffic to your website or blog.
Social platforms allow you to post all about your business as well as just about any topic you think your customers would like for free. You don’t have to pay for expensive services or platforms to get this message out.
And you don’t even have to bring the customers into the social media platforms—they’re already there. Even better, on social networks like Instagram, you can sell your apparel products right off your page.
Q. How do I keep my shop’s content marketing efforts fresh so I keep my audience engaged?
There are many sources online for creating content that will perform as you want. The alphabroder Digital Lounge is one way to create a winning content strategy.
Most conventional wisdom from these say you need to create whatever content is being rewarded by that social platform at that time to get the algorithm to show your posts. This is only partially true.
Yes, it’s nice if you can create a lot of videos when you hear that Instagram is now favoring videos over static posts. But don’t let the format drive your strategy at the expense of creating great content for your audience.
Here are tips for you to use with any social media platform:
VIDEOS: Videos can be short or long, but for the best repurposing without a lot of editing, videos one minute or less are going to be your best bet. Videos can be used to show your processes for different screen-printing jobs. They’re educational and fun to watch. You can also answer questions while recording. Use videos in social media, on your website, with a blog, or send them out in newsletters to your customers and really get the most out of a minimal time and effort investment. This hysterical video from our friends at Image Ink SC is a great example of getting your message across in an entertaining way.
Here are some of Wylie’s quick tips for shooting videos in your shop:
- Get a solid stabilizing tripod and up-to-date smartphone.
- Get a light box, along with other good lighting sources, to take quality product shots.
- Have custom branded banners and backdrops printed to always brand your shop even if someone views the videos for a few seconds.
- Take the audio from your videos and turn them into blogs.
PODCASTS: These days, podcasts can be as short as five minutes or as long as an hour (or more). If you video the podcast, you can repurpose it even more than if you just record your talking. Podcasts, with almost six in 10 U.S. consumers above the age of 12 having listened to at least one, are fast becoming the go-to entertainment for so many people.
You can use a podcast to educate, inform, promote and attract new customers while displaying your expertise in your apparel market. Place podcast buttons throughout social media, newsletters and on your website. You can also repurpose a podcast in at least 12 different ways making it a great investment of your time and easy to create.
alphabroder recently launched the podcast Hot Takes, where four unique industry pros share four unique takes on everything from promo products trends and insights, to their favorite sitcoms of all time.
USER-GENERATED CONTENT (UGC): Sometimes, UGC is the best content. If you can get fans to show off your decorated apparel and say great things about it, that’s money in the bank. That’s social proof and a positive review all in one. Plus, it’s content you can use and reuse. Encourage UGC by generating a unique hashtag that you post on your social media, in your store, and on your website and newsletters informing those shopping that you want them to share their content if they post about your apparel. The video content was originally posted by alphabroder’s tie-dye supplier (they were happy to post the content, so everyone wins here).
INFLUENCERS: Similar to UGC, you “manage” influencers, so you get a specific message out to a new audience. You work with an influencer who has sway in your target market to determine your message and how you want your influencer to express it. (UGC is what your fans want to post and say and they’re already your target audience.)
Generally, you’ll do research to find influencers who are best for you. You’ll approach them about a paid opportunity to promote a product, service or promotion you have going on. In fact, 90% of business owners who’ve used influencer marketing say it’s effective. Once you determine what your goal is from an influencer campaign, they generally create the content, and you monitor for the success of the collaboration. From there, you can decide if it’s worthwhile to continue the association or go a different route.
NEWSLETTERS: These are the OG form of social media. That’s why four out of five marketers said they’d rather give up social media than email marketing. Sending emails to your customers who opt in is one of the best ways to stay in mind and “tempt” your clients with offers they can’t refuse. These email newsletters allow you to send out the content you’re promoting on social media. If you’re creating videos, podcasts, and blogs, share your original content with those who already love your company and products!
SPECIAL OFFERS: Using the content strategy you created earlier, and knowing what you know about your target audience, create coupons and discount offers they can’t refuse to increase your apparel sales.
FUN CONTESTS: The idea is to make the contest fun for those who participate while also promoting your company and products. Bonus points if you can get those participating to allow you to use their photos and comments for future use. Try a “Who Wears It Best” contest for those who purchase a certain item, and have them post photos to your Facebook or Instagram page using a certain hashtag.
Q. Got any other tips for rocking our shop’s content marketing plan?
Of course! Check out these two “advanced” tactics:
1. Create a user-focused content strategy for customers.
If you’re looking for an easy-to-consume content strategy to engage your customer, try podcasts, videos, or even newsletters. You can also incorporate user-generated content to give them more of a personal connection.
The easy-to-consume content strategy will provide your customers with clear information about what you want to say. It does not need to be long and drawn out—concise and to the point can get your information across without burdening the audience. An example might be creating a video that you can use on YouTube, Facebook and Instagram Story and Reels.
Here are more of Wylie’s tips to focus your strategy on your customers:
- If you want to get more automotive or healthcare clients, post examples of decorated apparel or products you’ve already created for clients in those markets.
- Use seven to 10 great hashtags, and tag your customers, apparel suppliers or equipment manufacturers in your posts.
- Change up your content and posting times to accommodate different browsing schedules. You can also decide to go live, or post to your story and timeline, at different times.
2. Have an SEO plan in place.
There are a lot of different factors that can play into the success or failure of your content and how it ranks. It’s often a balancing act of various elements such as keywords, engagement, imagery and more that you need to think about before posting. Without the right formulas in place, it’s hard to make any headway with your prospects or customers.
“If you write an article about how to choose the right apparel for a high school spirit wear campaign at the start of the school year, that same article will be relevant at the beginning of every school year.” Marshall Atkinson, Atkinson Consulting and Shirt Lab Tribe
“Want to drive more traffic to your website?” Atkinson says. “Want to position your shop at the top of search engine results? Regularly posting blog articles to your site adds fresh, original content. Google has a patent on the Google Freshness Update, which is the method it seeks and searches for new content. In a nutshell, websites that offer new, original content score higher than sites that just sit there. Want better SEO? Provide a reason to be ranked higher.”
3. Use analytics to measure effectiveness and make adjustments.
If you want to get the most out of your initiatives, analyze your data closely. To do this, start with the information you’ll track.
Once you make this decision, track the data which you will then use to create strategies that you can put into action. Essentially, you’ll need to:
- Evaluate if you’re meeting customer expectations and needs with your content strategy, then use the data to make changes to content as necessary.
- Measure the success of your content strategy by looking at how it’s improved customer engagement rates or increased revenue for your company.
Q. So, if I’m ready to start on my shop’s content marketing plan today, how do I do it without getting overwhelmed?
Once you have a content marketing plan in place and know exactly what you want to create, determining how your shop will be able to create that content consistently is next. Don’t worry! This doesn’t need to be overwhelming.
Here are three tips as you get started:
- Always plan well in advance for the next month or two so you can prepare props for videos, line up people for interviews, and create the messaging you want for each video, podcast or post you plan. Essentially, you want to be able to handle any issues before they come up so you can have seamless, consistent content being published.
- Hire outside help if you need to as there are multiple content creator contractors you can use for short or long-term assistance. If you have enough staff and they are savvy with a mobile device and social media, you may have your content creator right there!
- Finally, get your audience to help you share your content. Create calls-to-action that ask the user to share or repost your content. Be sure to use social media share buttons on your website for your original content like videos and blogs or podcasts.
If you’re looking to add new equipment to your shop, we’ve got a good tip for you from Alison Banholzer, owner of Wear Your Spirit Warehouse. While you should talk to the machine manufacturers of course, find other decorators who are using the equipment you’re looking at and ask them for a few minutes of their time.
“Ask them how long it took to set up, learn and begin operating the equipment,” she says. “Ask them if they’ve had any breakdowns, if yes, how long did it take to get up and running again? How responsive was your support team, and did they actually cover the repair under the warranty or did they find a loophole? Are they getting a quality product from the equipment?”
Finally, see if you could ask one of these decorators to run a job or give you a sample of the output,” Banholzer says. “Of course, you may have to pay for the job or sample, but that’s a lot less expensive than buying a piece of equipment and finding out you made a bad purchase.”
SHOP alphabroder USA, alphabroder CANADA and Prime Line BRANDS TO FIND PRODUCTS OF THE MOMENT.
Laurie is part of the marketing team for the leading supplier in the industry, alphabroder. During her free time, Laurie likes to ride horses, sail and spend time with her husband and her two children. Reach her at Lprestine@alphabroder.com